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Interview With Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood; Germ Lab in Tornado Country?

Aired July 27, 2009 - 18:00   ET



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't know if they live there and they just had a hard time with their key, but I did notice that they kind of used their shoulder to try to barge in. And they got in. I don't know if they had a key or not, because I couldn't see from my angle. But, you know, when I looked a little closely, that's when I saw...

DISPATCHER: Black or Hispanic? Are they still in the house?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They're still in the house, I believe, yes.

DISPATCHER: Are they white, black or Hispanic?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, there were two larger men. One looked kind of Hispanic, but I'm not really sure. And the other one entered, and I didn't see what he looked like at all. I just saw it from a distance. And this older woman was worried, thinking someone's breaking in someone's house. They've been barging in.

And she interrupted me, and that's when I had noticed. Otherwise, I probably wouldn't have noticed it at all, to be honest with you. So, I was just calling because she was a concerned neighbor, I guess.

DISPATCHER: OK. Are you standing outside?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm standing outside, yes.

DISPATCHER: All right, well, police are on the way. You can meet them when they get there. What's your name?


DISPATCHER: All right, we're on the way.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK. All right, I guess I'll wait.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Now you have heard it. What you didn't hear was any reference to two black men.

Let's bring in CNN's Elaine Quijano. She's in Boston watching all of this for us.

All right, Elaine, this is significant. What do we know about the caller?

ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, well, we know, as you heard on the tape there, you're right, she made no mention of two black men.

We know she is devastated, really, by all of this because some people have tried to paint her as a racist, as a white woman who is scared of seeing black men in her neighborhood and that's why she called 911, but clearly, on that tape, you can hear her say she doesn't even mention race until the 911 operator asked her point- blank. And, even then, Wolf, she says well, I'm not sure. One of the men might be Hispanic.

BLITZER: There was also the tape they released of the police officer calling for backup. I'm going to play a very quick little clip.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The gentleman says he resides here, but he's uncooperative. But keep the cars coming.


BLITZER: All right, "Keep those cars coming."

What did we learn from this tape, Elaine?

QUIJANO: Well, you hear Sergeant Crowley's voice on that, and in another part of the police radio transmission tape that was released today, you can also hear another person's voice in the background, but we don't know who it is. We can't tell what that person is saying. So, we don't know if it was Professor Gates, and it doesn't really shed any insight, really, into what his demeanor was.

However, if you listen to the full tape of that transmission, it's clear that Sergeant Crowley, in his communications with the dispatcher, anyway, is really pretty calm throughout -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Elaine's in Boston working the story.

This 911 call could spark more outrage, but President Obama hopes to put all of this out, hopes to put the fire out and get rid of all the anger. He's hosting Professor Gates and Officer Crowley for drinks over at the White House later in the week. We're told it will happen this week. Last week, President Obama said they would all drink a beer.

A pair of superpowers, economic and strategic rivals, the United States and China view each other very cautiously, but as the two sides sat down today for high-level talks here in Washington, President Obama played down the differences.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Let us be honest. We know that some are wary of the future.

Some in China think that America will try to contain China's ambitions. Some in America think that there is something to fear in a rising China. I take a different view. And I believe President Hu takes a different view as well. I believe in a future where China is a strong, prosperous and successful member of the community of nations.


BLITZER: All right, let's bring in our White House correspondent, Dan Lothian. He's here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Dan, when you hear this, some folks immediately start raising questions about China's human rights record. And how is the president and the White House dealing with that?

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And human rights is still an important issue for this administration, but what the administration is trying to do is change the tone of this relationship, have a more conciliatory relationship, rather than confrontational, because President Obama believes that if there is this trust that developed between the two nations, than it's better to address some of these other issues that might come up, like human rights.

The bottom line, though, here for the president is that he says he's not under any illusions here that China and the U.S. will always see eye-to-eye or that they will view the world the same way. But they do look at each other as partners who can help each other.

The United States has seen China helping out in North Korea with the nuclear problem there, and also addressing the global economic crisis. This is a partner the United States really wants to build trust with.

BLITZER: And they certainly have a lot of T-bills. They have a lot of U.S. money that they have invested in as well. So, that's an additional factor in all of this.


LOTHIAN: It really is. And that's why it's so important. You saw Chinese officials meeting today not only with President Obama, Secretary of State Clinton and other officials as well, treasury secretary, trying to foster, build this relationship, so they can deal with some of these issues that they both have in common.

BLITZER: It's a complicated but critically important relationship, as the president points out. Dan, thanks very much.

Let's check in with Jack Cafferty right now. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: The United States will do everything it can to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said over the weekend that Tehran's pursuit of nuclear weapons is -- quote -- "futile" -- unquote.

That tough talk comes after Clinton annoyed Israel last week when she said the U.S. would cope with a nuclear Iran by arming allies in the region and extending a -- quote -- "defense umbrella." Israel didn't like that, said the U.S. should focus on stopping Iran from getting a weapon in the first place, instead of acting like it's a done deal.

Iran insists they're only enriching uranium for energy. A lot of people think they're lying, including me. Meanwhile, the U.S. is trying to convince Israel that diplomatic efforts with Iran are worthwhile. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who met in Israel with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu today, said that the United States hopes to make some progress with Iran by September.

President Obama, you will recall, warned Tehran it has until the end of the year to show serious progress toward ending any nuclear weapons program.

According to Netanyahu, Gates said the U.S. and Israel see eye- to-eye when it comes to Iran's nuclear threat. Mr. Netanyahu stressed the need to use all means, his words, to stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. Other Israeli officials have said that no option should be removed from the table.

The U.S. is worried that, if Israel should go ahead with a preemptive strike against Iran, it could create even more problems in the Middle East. Seems like a reasonable assumption.

Here's the question: How can the United States prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons? Go to You can post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Good question. No simple answers, Jack.


BLITZER: Thanks very much.

The government says be afraid of a young man they claim wants to be a terrorist. But an unusual supporter says the government is flat- out wrong.


GARY MERINGER, JURY FOREMAN: I was surprised that the government even brought the case, sitting there listening to it.


BLITZER: You're going to hear more from this man about that case and it's only a report that you will see here on CNN.

Broken government. Whose idea was it to put a lab handling very dangerous diseases in tornado country? And want something for virtually nothing? You might want to rush to your local car dealer. You could get a new ride for your old clunker. The transportation secretary, Ray LaHood, is here to explain this big deal.


BLITZER: Only on CNN, what we're calling a terror do-over. Why would a former student at a Florida college acquitted on terror charges be locked up again?

Our John Zarrella tried to get the government to speak, but it's someone else's voice that really caught our attention -- John.


JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN MIAMI BUREAU CHIEF: Wolf, imagine you're arrested, you go to trial, you're acquitted. It's over. Not necessarily.

(voice-over): If you believe the federal government, Youssef Megahed is a terrorist or a man likely to engage in terrorism. If you believe Gary Meringer, Youssef is an innocent man.

GARY MERINGER, JURY FOREMAN: I was surprised that the government even brought the case, sitting there listening to it.

ZARRELLA: Meringer was the jury foreman. Megahed, who came to the U.S. from Egypt in 1998, had been charged with possessing and transporting explosives. After a three-week trial and three days of deliberations, Meringer and 11 other jurors circled "Not guilty" on the verdict form. For Megahed, freedom, right? Wrong. Megahed is again behind bars.

(on camera): Now they're flat-out saying that you're a terrorist and they're going to deport you. You know, how does that -- how do you react to that?

YOUSSEF MEGAHED, FACING DEPORTATION (via telephone): I would say this is a false allegation, like, baseless. And I go to court and fight those allegations against.

ZARRELLA: We talked by phone with Youssef Megahed because for, quote, "national security implications," we were not allowed to bring recording devices into the detention facility.

So how did this unfold? Two years ago, Megahed, a student at University of South Florida, went on a road trip with a friend, Ahmed Mohamed. Pulled over for speeding in South Carolina, police found a pipe with potassium nitrate inside, along with detonator cord -- for model rockets, Mohamed claimed. But it wasn't what authorities found in the car, it was a video posted on YouTube that made the case against Mohamed.

In Arabic, he demonstrates how to outfit a model car with explosives. Mohamed pleaded guilty to providing material support to terrorists and is serving 15 years. Megahed claimed he had no idea what was in the car. On the family's home computer, authorities say they found videos, documents and an Internet search history that supports, quote, "jihad against the United States."

The jurors believed Megahed, not the government. He was free for all of three days. He was leaving a Tampa Wal-Mart with his father when he was rearrested by federal immigration agents.

SAMIR MEGAHED, FATHER: They didn't give us a chance to speak to somebody to know what is going on!

ZARRELLA: This time, Immigration and Customs Enforcement is accusing him of being, quote, "engaged in or likely to engage in any terrorist activity." The same case Megahed was acquitted in will now be heard in immigration court, where the government's burden of proof is far less than at a criminal trial.

GUY LEWIS, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: The government doesn't use this a lot, but I think is it an arrow in the quiver that needs to stay because there are those cases where the government needs to do everything within its power to keep us safe.

ZARRELLA: Megahed says he's been profiled and that this is contrary to President Obama's call to end the, quote, "cycle of suspicion."

YOUSSEF MEGAHED: First, it's double jeopardy. Second, they keep talking about change and change. If President Obama wants to think about change, he should look first inside -- inside the U.S., before talking about change worldwide.

ZARRELLA: A senior administration official told CNN the White House would have no comment on this case. But jury foreman Gary Meringer has had plenty to say. On a dreary Saturday, he got in his car for a two-hour drive to visit Megahed at the Florida detention facility.

MERINGER: I told him that I wanted him to know there were people out here that cared about him, that were praying for him. I want this kid to get a fair shake.

ZARRELLA: On the way out, Meringer sees Megahed's father.

MERINGER: Oh, God bless. You're a great dad!

ZARRELLA: Youssef Megahed will be deported if the judge rules against him this time.

(on camera): Megahed's trial before an immigration judge is scheduled for August 17. This time, there is no jury -- Wolf.


BLITZER: All right, John, stay in touch with us and let us know what happens. Dangerous germs, contagious diseases, if they're contained in a lab, no problem, right? But what if that lab is set to be built in tornado country?

Plus, call it a nudge from Michelle Obama -- the first lady's subtle role in one of the Obama administration's biggest pushes.

And Sarah Palin fired off some parting shots, but see why her exit strategy may be a winning one after all.



BLITZER: A building full of biohazards, not a problem if germs don't escape. So, here's a question. Why would the government put the building right in the heart of tornado country?

Plus, paying people to trade in their gas-guzzlers. We're putting the cash for clunkers program into our magic wall to see if it really pays off for you.

And she made quite an exit, taking aim at the news media with her final words. But here's a thought. Could Sarah Palin be taking a page out of the Nixon handbook?


SARAH PALIN, FORMER GOVERNOR OF ALASKA: Our troops are willing to die for you, so how about, in honor of the American soldier, you quit making things up?



BLITZER: Tonight, in our look at "Broken Government," your safety and a potential biohazard. Many of us would not want an infectious disease lab close by, let alone in a region known for spawning tornadoes. Now a government watchdog group, they're calling into question whether one such project green-lighted by the Department of Homeland Security is putting us at risk.

Let's go to CNN's Jeanne Meserve.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the Department of Homeland Security has decided to locate a new agricultural research facility in Manhattan, Kansas, but a draft Government Accountability report is fanning the flames of a fierce argument over whether the decision is a dangerous one.


MESERVE (voice-over): A powerful tornado hit Manhattan, Kansas, last year, doing $20 million of damage to Kansas State University. But this is where the Department of Homeland Security has decided to put a new agricultural laboratory to research the most dangerous animal pathogens, like highly contagious foot-and-mouth disease.

Critics say, after it's built, critics claim, another tornado could damage the facility, resulting in a release and a catastrophe.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It absolutely is unsafe. All they need is that tornado to hit and it will cause billions of dollars of damages to the U.S. economy. It will wipe out tens of millions of animals.

MESERVE: Defray (ph) represents a group that wants the lab and its economic benefits in San Antonio, Texas, one of several competing sites.

He and others are seizing on a draft Government Accountability Office report which says the DHS' decision to put the lab in Kansas is based on flawed risk and economic analysis. It concludes, this "questionable methodology could result in regrettable consequences."

What is the GAO talking about? Foot-and-mouth disease was inadvertently released from a research lab in Britain in 2001, leading to eight outbreaks on nearby farms, which were contained by massive animal slaughters. A DHS official counters the GAO report, saying, "We feel like we have done a very thorough assessment of the risk, the security and the safety of this particular facility."

And proponents in Kansas insist it will not pose a hazard.

TOM THORNTON, PRESIDENT, KANSAS BIOSCIENCE AUTHORITY: The safety and security measures that go into this kind of research have advanced dramatically, such that this kind of biocontainment research takes place safely and securely on the mainland in cities like Atlanta, Georgia, at the Centers for Disease Control every single day.

MESERVE: The construction of the Kansas lab will result in the closure of the outdated Plum Island Animal Disease Center off Long Island, New York. The GAO report concludes it would be less risky to continue animal research there than to move it to the agricultural heartland.

But DHS says it has no plans to revisit its decision.


MESERVE: As for the tornado issue, we talked to a specialist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. And he tells us this is a little bit of a red herring. Yes, there are tornadoes in Kansas and in Texas, too, but he says given the high state of government building specifications, it's unlikely that damage in either place would actually be damaged by a tornado -- back to you, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jeanne, thank you.

We want to move on now to that farewell speech that had a lot of bite to it. We're talking about the governor, the former governor right now, of Alaska, Sarah Palin.

The best political team on television is here, as well as Carol Costello. She is in New York.

Carol, set this discussion up for us a little bit right now on Sarah Palin and what here intentions are.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, do you know what ukudigada (ph) means?


COSTELLO: You don't? I'm surprised. It means goodbye in Aleut. That's one of Alaska's native languages. And that is what Sarah Palin, she said ukudigada at a picnic, with some not-so-nice words for the media.


PALIN: You represent what could and should be a respected, honest profession that could and should be a cornerstone of our democracy.

Democracy depends on you. And that is why -- that's why our troops are willing to die for you. So, how about, in honor of the American soldier, you quit making things up?



COSTELLO: Deja vu all over again? Palin's words weirdly echoing Richard Nixon's back in 1962, when he abruptly quit politics after a painful gubernatorial defeat.


RICHARD NIXON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I leave you gentlemen now. And you will now write it. You will interpret it. That's your right.

But, as I leave you, I want you to know just think how much you're going to be missing. You don't have Nixon to kick around anymore.

Thank you, gentlemen. And good day.



MESERVE: Oh, who could forget that?

But oh, how wrong he was. During his alleged hiatus, Nixon stumped for fellow Republicans, gathering political favors along the way. And there are rumors Sarah Palin will do the same.

Nixon wrote a book in '62. Sarah Palin will likely, too. And we all know how well Nixon's playbook played. He became president six years later. So, is Palin taking a page from the Nixon playbook for 2012?

BLITZER: All right, let's put that to our panel.

Gloria Borger is here, David Frum, the former Bush speechwriter, and Candy Crowley.

David, first to you. What do you think? Is there a page here from the Nixon playbook?

DAVID FRUM, FORMER SPEECHWRITER FOR FORMER PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: I don't think history is going to repeat itself.

She did pick up Richard Nixon's trademark smiling resentment. This is very unlike the Ronald Reagan you can drop a nickel down into that well, and you wouldn't hear it plunk before running out of the goodness of the man. This is very different.

The American soldier fighting for the country in Iraq may have some other things that he would want, before he would ask the media to stop criticizing Sarah Palin, maybe some recognition of the achievements in Iraq.

I thought it was also very striking in that -- in that speech that she would combine a -- that she would focus on an attack on government handouts and how damaging they were. This from a governor whose most noted achievement as governor was increasing the payout from the Alaska government to $1,200 per resident. That's one of the reasons she was so popular at the beginning of her term.

BLITZER: What did you think of her strategy in that speech last night?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think it was Sarah Palin. She's going to tell you what she thinks. And we've heard it over and over and over again. I thought it was negative. It was sort of a final good-bye to the press, because now she's going to the private sector. She's going to give speeches. She's going to make a lot of money. She's going to raise a lot of money.

But I think the difference between her and Richard Nixon, you know, Nixon lost. She's quitting. There's -- there's a big difference here.

She lost as vice president, but she had a job that she was only 18 months into. And I think as a politician, there's always going to be that question there. She said oh, it would be frustrating to be a lame duck. Well, ask George W. Bush about how frustrating it was for him to be a lame duck. He hung around.

BLITZER: You know, Candy, correct me if I'm wrong, but I saw teleprompters there. This was a carefully crafted speech. She worked on it, presumably, for some time. It wasn't just her rambling or speaking off-the-cuff. These were points she obviously wanted to make.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I didn't see the teleprompter, but this definitely was a speech that had paragraphs to it and some rhyme or reason, unlike when we saw her when she sort of announced that she was going to quit.

Listen, no one will be more disappointed if cameras don't show up to the next event than Sarah Palin. I thought this was classic Republicanism. This was bedrock Republican. This was the media's out to get me. By the way, beware of big government. They're trying to take away our guns. And the best thing we can do is give you money back.

I mean that's what this speech was about.

BLITZER: If she's...

CROWLEY: It's bedrock Republican.

BLITZER: If she's going to speak at the Ronald Reagan Library in the next couple of weeks, there are going to be a lot of cameras there. And you know that, David.

FRUM: Yes. And she's -- she's going to be a big star. And she can -- she continues -- will reinforce a problem that the Republican Party has, which is those people on our side who are best able to get the attention of the media -- Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh and others like them -- present a message that is very damaging for the Republican Party's recovery.


FRUM: And those people who have a message that is positive for the Republican Party's recovery, like Governor Huntsman on his way to Beijing, are not going to be in the cameras. And so they -- there is a kind of Palin media nexus of which the Republican Party is the victim.


BORGER: She's a good story. She's just great to cover.

FRUM: She's a good story.

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: Governor Huntsman of Utah. He's about to be the U.S. ambassador in China.

FRUM: Did I say that wrong?

BLITZER: No. You said it right.


BLITZER: All right, guys. Don't go away. We're going to continue this conversation.

The president is putting the hard sell on health care reform. The first lady's role a little bit more subtle.

But is her gentle nudge enough?

Plus, the recurring words a president can't escape -- why America seems to be stuck on stupidly.

OBAMA: Stupidly, I unfortunately...


BLITZER: We're back with Carol Costello and the best political team on television -- Carol, another comparison, this time involving the first lady, Michelle Obama, and a former first lady -- the issue of health care.

COSTELLO: That's right. And we're talking about comparing Michelle Obama to Hilary Clinton. You know, with Michelle Obama, it started in the garden, with the first lady positively glowing over lettuce, spinach and carrots.

But now, as one pro-Obama blogger puts it, Michelle Obama is moving out of the house and garden space and into promoting health care reform.

That does sound so Hilary Clinton circa 1993, doesn't it?

Mrs. Obama is making her case for reform subtly, though. Today, she's on hand for the opening of a new health clinic paid for by federal stimulus dollars. She's appeared at other events involving health care paid for by Uncle Sam.



MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: As you all know, we are at a critical juncture in the debate about health care in this nation. The current system is economically unsustainable and I don't have to tell any of you that.


COSTELLO: Yes, well, that goes way beyond eat your broccoli, it's good for you. Others say it's not like the first lady is appearing by her husband's side every time he pushes health care -- at least not physically.


B. OBAMA: Michelle and I don't want anyone telling us who our family doctor should be and no one should decide that for you, either.


COSTELLO: So the question, as we head into August, will Michelle Obama start to play a bigger role in pushing her husband's reform package?

BLITZER: Good question, Carol.

Let's ask Candy Crowley.

What do you think?

CROWLEY: I think the president will use anybody he can that might do him some good to get this thing through Congress. I think it's questionable whether Michelle Obama can move the Blue Dogs.

BORGER: You know, talking to folks at the White House, they make it very clear -- she's out there making the case, but she's not making the decisions. That's the difference with Hilary Clinton. She's not participating...

CROWLEY: She's also more light, frankly, than Hilary Clinton was.

BORGER: Oh, 68 percent favorability. Sure. So they want her out there selling, but she's not the one writing the health reform package.

BLITZER: She's a valuable asset. Candy says the Blue Dogs. Those are the moderate conservative Democrats. That seems to be, for Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic leadership in the House, the biggest problem they have right now.

FRUM: As of today. The next big problem, the really -- the big locomotive heading down the train is that Max Baucus is about to become the real architect of this. The Senate Finance Committee, which is the group that will do what the House won't do and figure out how to pay for all of this, they're going to step into the limelight.

I wonder if the reason for the first lady's popularity is precisely that she hasn't been making the case for controversial things. And if she does, she cannibalizes her popularity, because she becomes, then, just another politician.

BORGER: Well, but she makes the case, at least up until now, for the general need for health care reform, which -- which most of the American public agrees with her on.


BORGER: When she starts making the case for a specific (INAUDIBLE)...


CROWLEY: -- her husband.

BLITZER: Yes. And all of us remember what happened in '93 and '94 when Hilary Care -- Clinton Care went down in flames. It seems so many of those people who were involved then -- including Rahm Emanuel, now the White House chief of staff -- they want to do exactly the opposite of what Bill and Hilary Clinton did then, thinking a new strategy might work this time -- Candy.

FRUM: But the...

CROWLEY: Well, it's -- there's no two for -- buy one, you get two, in this administration. They are very, very aware of that. And I think, as Carol said, this will be subtle. But she's clearly out there. I mean she can't help -- she can't help but help at this point. It's just, the question is whether or not she helps in the right places.

BORGER: Right.

FRUM: And the grim irony is that with one health dollar in 10 being spent on diabetes, for example, that a campaign to persuade people to eat more broccoli and carrots may well do more good than any of the policy measures we're talking about in Washington.

BORGER: And maybe she can do a little broccoli and a little reform, right?

FRUM: It is...

BORGER: How the...


FRUM: It is change in public health, it is change in habits...

BLITZER: But is it...

FRUM: ...that will be the real driver.

BLITZER: Is it your point -- I want to get back to this -- that if she does get really assertive on health care reform right now, that will weaken her brand?

FRUM: It will because it also corrodes some of the taboos in our political system. The first lady is not to be criticized. That's a rule. Until she becomes a player, as Hilary Clinton did, and then it's -- then it's not fair. I mean then it's like that scene of the Batman movie, where Catwoman says to Batman, you wouldn't hit a woman, would you?

And he recoils and then she kicks him.

BORGER: But, you know...

FRUM: You can't play that game.

BORGER: But it's not her signature issue. Her signature issue is military families, for example...

FRUM: Yes.

BORGER: ...helping military families, which is largely non- controversial. CROWLEY: And in a supportive role here now...

BORGER: It's her husband...

CROWLEY: And, first of all, I doubt you'll be seeing her talk about the specifics of things, which is where the really unpopular things start.

BORGER: Right.

CROWLEY: And it's not as though his popularity has gone down. His approval has not gone down and he's pushing these things.

So I think she's safe for a while. And I think you're right, where, if she got into the details of it, that -- that begins to chip away.


BLITZER: But she's a huge asset, if used in the right way.


BLITZER: There's no doubt about that.

BORGER: And can I just say one thing?

She's a former hospital executive.


BORGER: So it's not like she's unfamiliar with these issues.

BLITZER: At the University of Chicago.

FRUM: But that's part of the problem.


BLITZER: All right, guys. Thanks very much.


BLITZER: When a president speaks, you never know who's picking up on it. T-shirt makers, for one, have a new buzzword. And Jeanne Moos is following the stupidly trail.

But next, a new car and a government credit to help buy it -- CNN's Tom Forman is standing by -- Tom?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf. If you're anywhere in the country right now, you might be seeing ads like this advertising the Cash for Clunkers program. It is either the best thing or the worst thing since the Vega. And Secretary LaHood will be here to help us hash it out in the Chalk Talk -- Wolf.


BLITZER: Got an old car -- maybe not even such an old car -- you'll be interested in Cash for Clunkers, especially if you like cash.

Let's talk about this and what it means for you.

Joining us, the secretary of Transportation, Ray LaHood.

Mr. Secretary, thanks for coming in.


BLITZER: And Tom Forman is here to explain -- give us a little background.

Cash for Clunkers -- what's this all about?

FOREMAN: A lot of buzz about this, because it's just starting today.

Here's how it works in a nutshell and this is a simplified form.

Let's say you have an older car that's not very fuel-efficient that you'd like to do a better job with. Let's say it's an SUV or something and it's got several years on it, maybe some good miles on it.

Here's basically what will qualify this as a clunker that you can get a deal on -- 25 years old at most. So you want it younger than that. Eighteen miles a gallon or less. Drivable, registered and insured for the past year. That will qualify it as a clunker under this program.

So if that's the car you want and you'd like to get a new car, the kind of new car you can qualify for is going to be a car that allows you to have a minimum of 22 miles per gallon, with some exceptions. If you're buying a truck, it may be a little less than that -- under $45,000 base price.

Now with options, it can go a lot more. So you could be talking about a BMW that's $45,000 but push it much higher with the things you add on.

More miles per gallon improvement over your previous car will mean more money. So that's -- the top amount that you can get out of this whole deal is about $4,500. But simply put, Wolf, if you have a car over here that's only worth about $1,500, this is a deal. You take it in, you're going to get a lot of money.

BLITZER: Let's ask -- let's ask the secretary of Transportation.

Why is this good for taxpayers?

LAHOOD: Well, because people that have been driving cars with over 100,000 miles or a lot of miles on them can take them in, get the $4,500, get a new car. It helps the car manufacturer. It helps salesmen who've been out of work because they haven't been able to sell cars. It helps the economy and it helps the auto industry.

It's a win/win for everybody.

BLITZER: How much money are we talking about for the U.S. Taxpayers?

LAHOOD: One billion dollars will buy 250,000 cars. And we believe -- we announced it today. And car dealerships all over America are full of people looking at new cars, looking at their options, looking at opportunities to buy a new car and cash in on between $3,500 and $4,500.

FOREMAN: Let me ask you something about that, though, Mr. Secretary., which, as you know, is one of the most respected sources out there for people who are trying to buy cars, has weighed in, saying here's part of the problem with that. Yes, you may get all these buyers, but most of these sales were going to happen anyway. These were people who were going to replace their car, so all they're getting is a tax break at the expense of all the rest of us. So taxpayers are underwriting private purchases for no real advantage to the economy, because these purchases were going to happen. And they say, as a result, there will be very little stimulus...

LAHOOD: Look, you guys...

FOREMAN: ...for additional car sales.

LAHOOD: You guys have been running stories for months about dealerships closing, salesmen out of work, people -- credit counselors in these dealerships who provide the credit out of work.

Salesmen are going to be hired back. Showrooms are going to be open. Showrooms are going to be vibrant. You're not going to see a lot of new cars sitting on lots because people are going to buy them.

A lot of these showrooms have been empty because people have not had the ability or the incentive to buy a new car.

BLITZER: So this is really an economic stimulus package, as well.

LAHOOD: It's a stimulus for car salesmen, for people who work in the -- in the showrooms, for the car dealers and for the automobile manufacturers and the people who make the cars.

FOREMAN: Edmunds, however, is saying this is only going to be about 50,000 more cars than we would have normally sold and it's a one shot deal...

LAHOOD: We had...

FOREMAN: ...they're saying it's not enough stimulus. LAHOOD: We had two -- almost two million hits on our Web site from people just asking questions about this before we even rolled the program out. We think 250,000 new cars will be sold and it will be a good use to get people back to work making cars, selling cars and getting people into new cars.

BLITZER: Now, the 250,000 cars that are going to be sold -- new cars -- those aren't just U.S. Cars. Those are imports, as well.

LAHOOD: That's correct. But many of the imports -- many of the Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Hyundai, all of those -- many of those are made in America by American workers, all over America. So we...

BLITZER: Because they're assembled in the United States.

LAHOOD: That's right.

BLITZER: And, Tom, there are some critics who say there's another way taxpayer money could have been used to achieve what might have even been a better result.

FOREMAN: Yes, here's the question with all of this, Mr. Secretary. One of the ideas is what if you have, over here, a car dealership. This is one way of doing it, by spurring sales over here.

As you know, some other people have said, what if you did it this way. Instead, what if you said to the people who have these clunkers, when you get your auto emissions check, you're going to be slapped with a surcharge -- $500, $600, $300. That way, instead of the government and taxpayers paying their way out of the problem, you make the people with the problem pay their way out of it.

LAHOOD: Look it, we're putting...

FOREMAN: Why would that not work?

LAHOOD: We're putting people to work. These are people that are making the cars, auto -- UAW members, people who are selling the cars, people working the dealerships. We're going to get these high CO2 burning cars off the road...

FOREMAN: Why wouldn't this work...

LAHOOD: killing the engines...

FOREMAN: Why wouldn't this do the same thing, though, with fewer tax dollars?

LAHOOD: We're -- look it, we're trying to put people to work and we're trying to sell automobiles, which have been -- it's one of the things in the market hurting terribly. You all know that. Stories have been written and talked about. These dealerships have been empty. Today they're full of people looking at new cars.

BLITZER: How long is it going to take, in your opinion, for these 250,000 cars to be sold, the billion dollars to be used, though? LAHOOD: The program expires in November.

BLITZER: So it could -- but it could expire earlier...


LAHOOD: Look it...

BLITZER: ...if more people come with their clunkers, you -- it could expire a lot earlier.

LAHOOD: It could expire a lot earlier. We're saying go buy a new car. The American car manufacturer is back.

BLITZER: So the pressure is...

LAHOOD: Now is the time.

BLITZER: The pressure is on. People who have clunkers...

LAHOOD: This is going to be the summer for new cars.

BLITZER: And if you want the money, you better do it quickly, before the money runs out.

LAHOOD: The summer of new cars. Buy a new car, America.

BLITZER: He's a salesman.

FOREMAN: He's a salesman.

BLITZER: He's selling cars.

FOREMAN: You should be working a lot.


BLITZER: If the Transportation secretary thing doesn't work out, maybe Lee Iacocca.

LAHOOD: There you go.

BLITZER: You could go out there and sell some cars.

LAHOOD: Buy a new car, America. It helps everybody.

BLITZER: Mr. Secretary, thanks for coming in.

LAHOOD: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you

Let's go to Jack Cafferty right now.

He's got "The Cafferty File."

Do you have a clunker -- Jack?

Do you need a new car?

CAFFERTY: Actually, I'm buying a new car and -- but they're not going to give me the $4,500, I'm afraid. But I like the enthusiasm of the secretary. He's...

BLITZER: I know. He's really enthusiastic.

CAFFERTY: He is fired up. That's good.

The question this hour is: How can the United States prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons?

Conor in Chicago: "We can't. We don't have the resources to widen our wars in that region, especially since Iran would prove to be the most difficult of these countries to conquer. We can't bomb their nuclear sites because of the risk of creating another Chernobyl in the Middle East. The reality is Iran will get the bomb and we will just have to adjust."

Patrick says: "We've given them five years to give up their nukes. Time and time again, they've refused to do so. The time for diplomacy is over."

Erich writes: "The U.S. cannot prevent Iran from getting nukes and the U.S. has no right to tell a sovereign nation what it can or cannot do. If the United States didn't bow to Israel's command in every instance of Middle Eastern foreign policy, then anti-US sentiment would be nonexistent. And if Israel allowed the displaced Palestinians the right to some of their land back, anti-Israeli sentiment would decrease, giving nations like Iran no legitimate reason to harness nuclear weapons."

Linn writes: "They need to put more sanctions in place now, not when Iran is ready to wipe Israel off the map, like they have said they want to do."

Floyd says: "The only way I see is to bomb or invade Iran. I think the United States is tired of that approach. Letting Israel do the bombing keeps our troops out of it. But I think most of the Middle East would go crazy. Arming allies might be the only choice left. We don't have the military manpower to go to war with any more countries and then rebuild and democratize them."

And Glenn says: "We can't. We'll just have to deal with them. Israel has its own nuclear deterrent anyway."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog at and look for yours there among hundreds of others.

You got a clunker there, Wolf?

BLITZER: No. I've got nice cars, Jack.

CAFFERTY: You've got nice cars.



BLITZER: All right, Jack.

Thank you.

CAFFERTY: See you tomorrow.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: There's a significant development happening right now -- breaking news involving the Michael Jackson investigation into his death.

Let's go to CNN's Ted Rowlands.

He's working the story for us -- Ted, tell our viewers in the United States and around the world what we've confirmed.

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this is significant because it really does take this investigation to another level.

What we have confirmed through a source that is close to the Jackson family with knowledge of the investigation is that Dr. Conrad Murray administered the powerful anesthetic, Propofol, to Michael Jackson during his care of Michael Jackson. And, of course, there has been a lot of talk about this drug and the possibility that it may have caused Jackson's death. This is the first significant turn, if you will, of events toward Dr. Murray and this drug.

Now, Dr. Murray's lawyers have told us -- I just got off the phone with them -- that they will not speak to this specifically. They say they won't respond to unnamed sources. And they have said, in an earlier statement, that Murray never administered or prescribed anything that would result in Jackson's death.

But that's the headline here -- a significant connection, for the first time, between Dr. Conrad Murray and Propofol or Diprivan, as it has been also referred to, that anesthetic that would only normally be used in a hospital setting, apparently used by Dr. Murray, given to Michael Jackson.

BLITZER: Stand by for a moment, because Jeff Toobin, our senior legal analyst, is joining us on the phone right now -- Jeff, let's talk about the legal significance of this, because there's certainly -- there's certainly no doubt that there have been suggestions over the past few weeks that manslaughter could be part of this investigation -- in other words, if there was medical malpractice.

Jeff Toobin, I think we just lost him for a second, but let's go back to Ted Rowlands -- Ted, have -- the attorneys for Dr. Murray themselves have said that a manslaughter investigation was underway? ROWLANDS: Well, that was in the search warrant which was served in Houston last week at the clinic of Dr. Murray. In the affidavit and the search warrant itself and the return of the search warrant, it spelled out that what investigators were looking for was "evidence that could support a manslaughter case."

We're also told, through sources, to expect possibly more of these search warrants in connection with Dr. Murray in the days moving forward.

Clearly, there is an investigation that involves the possibility of manslaughter. And now, with this new information that there is a connection, now, for the first time, we're hearing, between Murray and this Diprivan or Propofol that normally wouldn't be used in the setting it was apparently used for.

Clearly, you're seeing now a change in terms of this investigation and the very real possibility that if, indeed, when the coroner's report comes out -- which we're expecting that later this week -- that if -- if homicide is the cause of death, that Dr. Murray could -- potentially could face criminal charges.

BLITZER: All right. I think we've got Jeff Toobin on the line -- Jeff, this is a potentially very significant development.

Give us your thoughts on manslaughter and -- and this new development.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, Wolf, it's certainly a important development. And it's not good news for Dr. Murray. But I'd be definitely hesitant to conclude that we are definitely headed for a manslaughter charge here.

There are other possible explanations for how this drug could have been administered, at whose instigation, how many times it is done -- it had been done before, what were the circumstances, what did the doctor know, what did Michael Jackson tell him, what did Jackson have access to on his own?

There are a lot of questions still to be answered. And though this is certainly not good news for the doctor, it is far from certain that this will lead to a criminal prosecution.

BLITZER: Because he hasn't been charged with anything right now. I think the next step, formally, is to wait for the coroner's report -- right, Jeff?

TOOBIN: Absolutely. Certainly the most important piece of evidence will be cause of death -- how did he -- how did Michael Jackson die?

That will lead to all further legal steps, if there are any. And, by the end of this week, we should know that very important piece of information, which, of course, could be disputed by other experts, if, in fact, this winds up in court. BLITZER: If, in fact, Dr. Murray -- and we don't know this to be true. But if, in fact, he was giving Michael Jackson this anesthetic Propofol or Diprivan, as it's called, that doesn't necessarily mean that's illegal or anything, does it -- Jeff?

TOOBIN: Not necessarily, although certainly the -- the nature of this drug, as I understand it, is that it is far from an ordinary drug given to people. There would have to be some sort of explanation from Dr. Murray for why he did it.

But it needs to be said that he probably will have an explanation that -- that may well lead a prosecutor not to bring charges or a jury to reject those charges if it's brought.

So there's a lot more we need to know before we conclude that -- that a case will even be brought, much less that the doctor is -- is guilty of any wrongdoing.

BLITZER: Let me get back to Ted Rowlands -- Ted, my understanding was this drug, Propofol, is usually only administered in a hospital under hospital settings and is usually used for something to put someone to sleep -- a light sleep, for a colonoscopy, for example.

ROWLANDS: Exactly, a hospital or clinic scenario, not in somebody's home. But as Jeff said, if the doctor -- let's assume for a second that, indeed, he was using it, as our source was telling us, he could very well have a very good explanation for it if -- because it's not a controlled substance. Having it is not illegal. If he's got a good explanation for it, possibly, that, in itself, would be enough.

One other note here is that there was a third meeting between Dr. Murray and LAPD that was to take place last Friday. But following that search warrant that was served in Houston, they postponed that meeting. And that meeting has not yet been set.

But Murray's people -- their lawyer -- his lawyer tells -- told us just a few minutes ago on the phone, again, they are more than willing to talk to police and tell them whatever they want. At least that's publicly what they're saying.

BLITZER: And so no formal comment on this specific new development from the lawyer?

ROWLANDS: Only that they will not comment on any -- any story that uses an unnamed source. That was their comment.

BLITZER: All right, Ted.

Thanks very much.

Jeff Toobin, thanks to you, as well.

The coverage will continue.

"LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" starts right now.